Why women don’t negotiate the salaries they deserve

Suzanne Winterflood
Why women don’t negotiate the salaries they deserve

What do you have in common with Oscar-winning actress and Hollywood sweetheart Jennifer Lawrence? Turns out, you’re probably both pretty inept at negotiating a fair salary. 

When Sony Picture’s emails were hacked last year, it was revealed that Jennifer got paid considerably less than her male co-stars in the film ‘American Hustle’. Asked about it later, former Sony co-chair Amy Pascal said bluntly, “Here’s the problem: I run a business. People want to work for less money, I pay them less money.”

Across the world, the pay gap is growing. A 2014 Statistics New Zealand income survey showed that Kiwi women are earning, on average, 13% less than men. 

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The reasons are complex: research confirms conscious and subconscious gender bias still has a profound influence. Plus, men are simply more prepared to negotiate. A study at Carnegie Mellon University found that 57% of male graduates, and just 7% of females, asked for a higher salary with their first job.

“To be self-serving and negotiate for one’s own interest is not a feminine characteristic,” observes Dr Judith Pringle, a Professor of Organisation Studies at AUT’s Faculty of Business and Law.  

She says that males are brought up to be more competitive than girls, and believes this attitude carries through into the workplace.

“Child psychologists have identified that, even in play, boys tend to find where they are in the pecking order. Girls are more likely to focus on where they are in a web of relationships. High achieving girls under-demonstrate their brilliance in the company of boys.”

Career Specialist Janet Tuck, co-founder of Career Clinic, agrees that social conditioning and inherent gender traits can have an enormous impact.

“Without wishing to generalise, it’s true that negotiation doesn’t come naturally to many women. It’s a skill they need to learn well, and learn early on, otherwise they can be at a real disadvantage further down the track.”

She identifies a lack of confidence as the major reason why women are reluctant to ask for the remuneration they deserve. “I see many women who don’t back themselves or think they deserve more. They don’t realise they’re a product with tangible value and currency.”

Fear is another hurdle.

“Women can be afraid of failing. They avoid confrontation and don’t want to rock the boat,” Janet explains. “Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg calls this the ‘leadership ambition gap’.”

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How to negotiate a salary that reflects your true worth

Janet Tuck shares some of her professional tips:


This is a serious negotiation that requires a strategic approach and smart tactics. You can’t pop into your boss’s office for a casual chat and expect the result you’re after.

Control the situation

Confirm the meeting by email, and let your boss know what you want to talk about.

Take stock of your value to the company

Review your runs on the board, the knowledge and experience you bring. If you leave, what will the company be losing?

Consider your employer’s point of view

What does he or she need, and how do you deliver this? Work out the questions they’re likely to ask, and practice your answers.

State your case clearly and logically

Recap your achievements and, importantly, highlight the key projects you have coming up. Emphasise the reasons why you’re worth the pay rise you’re asking for.

Agree a timeframe for a response

Don’t demand an answer then and there, but don’t leave it open-ended either. Give your boss time to think, and suggest you catch up again in a week.

Need help?

Check out this video tutorial from from Dr Deborah Kolb, an international thought leader on the subject of women and negotiations:

Recommended reading

 Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead and Lean In: For Graduates, by Sheryl Sandberg.

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